By Shadi Khan Saif
KABUL, Afghanistan (AA) - The Afghan government led by President Ashraf Ghani and U.S. military officials have denied reports that U.S. personnel have been ordered to limit nearly all offensive combat operations against the Taliban.
Talking to Anadolu Agency, Presidency Spokesman Sediq Seddiqi, said there was no truth in the reports. But, he admitted that ahead of the eighth round of talks between the U.S. and Taliban, U.S. peace negotiator Zalmay Khalilzad had shared details of the peace process with Kabul.
But he emphasized that no draft agreement was shared.
The Spokesman of the U.S. Forces-Afghanistan (USFOR-A) Col. Sonny Leggett also rejected reports of withholding operations against the Taliban. "This article [in Newsweek] is inaccurate and speculative, citing unnamed sources, who are likely as far from the subject, as they are from Afghanistan itself," he said. The military official added that there were no such orders.
"The characterizations of changes to our authorities and operations have no basis in fact. We have no such orders and have made no such changes," he said.
The eighth round of talks between the U.S. and the Taliban negotiators concluded in the Qatari capital, Doha, on Monday. Without further details, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahed informed in a social media post that both sides have agreed to consult their respective leaderships for the next step.
An array of local and international media reports, over the past few days are suggesting that President Trump’s administration is proposing to cut the U.S. troop strength in Afghanistan to 6,000 -- nearly half -- to pave the way for finalizing a deal with the Taliban.
The local Salam Afghanistan radio network had reported last week that the U.S. had shared a draft deal with the Afghan government. The network also claimed that the U.S. was withdrawing 6,000 troops in the first four and a half months. It claimed that the Taliban have agreed not to attack the U.S. troops. Also, the Afghan government will release 5,000 to 10,000 Taliban prisoners within two weeks.
Quoting senior Pentagon officials, American weekly news magazine Newsweek also reported that U.S. personnel have been ordered to cease advising the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces.
Of the 14,000 U.S. military personnel in Afghanistan, 8,475 are assigned to the NATO-led Resolute Support mission "to train, advise, and assist Afghan security forces," according to figures the Defense Department provided in March to the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, a congressionally-mandated oversight authority.
The remaining U.S. military personnel serve in support roles or in conducting air operations, training the Afghan Special Forces, and conducting counterterror operations.